Leadership Values and Workplace Ethics

A Key Secret in the Success Factors That Define Effective Leaders

Image by Ran Zheng © The Balance 2019 

Leaders know what they value. They also recognize the importance of ethical behavior. The best leaders exhibit both their core values and their ethics in their leadership style and actions. Your leadership ethics and values should be visible because you live them in your actions every single day.

A lack of trust is a problem in many workplaces. If leaders never identified their values in these workplaces, the mistrust is understandable. People don't know what they can expect. If leaders have identified and shared their values, living the values daily—visibly will create trust. To say one sentiment and to do another will damage trust—possibly forever.

To walk your talk as a leader is the most significant way in which you demonstrate why employees can trust you and that you are an ethical and principled leader.

Three constructs of trust are suggested by Dr. Duane C. Tway. He calls trust a construct because it is constructed of these three components: “the capacity for trusting, the perception of competence, and the perception of intentions.”

Workplace ethics take the same route. If the organization's leadership has a code of conduct and ethical expectations, they become an organization joke if the leaders fail to live up to their published code. Leaders that exhibit ethical behavior powerfully influence the actions of others.

To really make a difference in your organization, you need to do all three. A reader wrote to support this view.

"Within the organizations, in which I have had the opportunity to serve, the core values were communicated by actions mostly—in the ways in which business is conducted on a day-to-day basis, and not so much in words directly spoken or written.

"I am a strong advocate of demonstrated values more than written or spoken—actions speak louder. But, I also believe that written values that reinforce and support specific actions, and specific actions that reinforce and support written values, make a powerful combination. Their power far exceeds the power of one or the other by itself. If it is written down and demonstrated in action, we can really hold our feet to the fire when we need to."

Choose Your Leadership Values


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The following are examples of values. You might use these values as the starting point for discussing values within your organization:

Ambition, competency, individuality, equality, integrity, service, responsibility, accuracy, respect, dedication, diversity, improvement, enjoyment/fun, loyalty, credibility, honesty, transparency, innovativeness, teamwork, excellence, accountability, empowerment, quality, efficiency, dignity, collaboration, stewardship, empathy, accomplishment, courage, wisdom, independence, security, challenge, influence, learning, compassion, friendliness, discipline/order, generosity, persistence, optimism, dependability, flexibility, reliability, responsibility, customer service.

As a leader, choose the values and the ethics that are most important to you, the values and ethics that you believe in, and that define your character. Then live them visibly every day at work. Living your values is one of the most powerful tools available to you to help you lead and influence others. Don't waste your best opportunity to deeply engage the minds and hearts of your workers and customers.

Consciously Choose Your Organization Values

Organizations that are effective, customer-centric, and employee-oriented, develop a clear, concise, and shared meaning of values/beliefs, priorities, and direction within their organization.

They want every employee to understand the values, contribute to the values, and live the values. Once defined, the values should impact every aspect of your organization.

You must support and nurture this impact or identifying the values will have been a waste of your time. People will feel fooled and misled unless they see the impact of the exercise within your organization—every day.

Leaders must lead in every aspect of selecting and living organization values.

Examples of Workplace Values

These samples of workplace values were developed by several organizations with facilitation by their leaders.

A Human Resources Development office chose these values as a reflection of how they want the organization to perceive them.

  • Integrity
  • Belonging/Caring
  • Helping/Contributing
  • Inner Harmony, Peace of Mind
  • Personal Growth, Learning, and Self-Actualization
  • Achievement /Accomplishment
  • Financial Stability
  • Fun

A University Student Health Center staff developed the acronym "I CARE" as a tool for remembering and expressing values. In the final document, each word is defined by a series of value statements that describe how the value is expressed in their workplace.

  • Integrity
  • Compassion
  • Accountability
  • Respect
  • Excellence

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